There are a few things (actually there are very many things) that are guaranteed to get a good cry out of me. The last song and scene in Les Mis. Watching mother/son and father/daughter dances at weddings. Reading The Giving Tree.
My children thoroughly exploit me on the last one, asking me to read the story to them and timing me to see how soon the tears start flowing.
God has given us an incredible tree in our front yard, which was the one non-negotiable our boys prayed for when we were looking for a new home. Our sweet tree has already been climbed daily by many pairs of bare feet and has more recently become the gracious host of our homemade tire swing. I keep imagining our tree smiling like the tremendous tree of Shel’s Silverstein’s classic story, glad to be enjoyed and cherished. The tree hasn’t even flinched when it has been hit my multiple Nerf arrows and bullets, making it one step ahead of even that famous Giving Tree.
Our tree is larger than life, so much so that that we had fears its roots might negatively effect the foundation of our home. Thus, we brought in a tree expert to inspect it this weekend.
Quirky at first, our tree expert inspected our tree, telling us all about the heart and the cambium and prop roots and drip lines. But the more he talked, the more we could sense his genuine concern for the preservation of our tree.
He went on and on about how it takes expert cuts to reshape and restructure trees, even when they have grown to maturity. He talked about proper angles for cutting and the perfect time to shape our tree. And he wasn’t giving off the salesman vibe, but radiated a sincere passion to see this tree live healthily and thrive for as long as possible.
After he left, I found myself going back to our interaction regarding said tree throughout the day. I was reminded of the fuming prophet Jonah, sitting under a beautiful plant that shaded him and gave him relief from the blazing sun. In an effort to simultaneously convict Jonah of his own racism and bitterness toward the Ninevites and also show the breadth of His love for the people He created, God caused the vine to die. Jonah was livid, and He and God proceeded to have an interesting conversation.
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which. you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Job 4:9-11.
I love our tree already and our boy are obsessed in the healthiest way. We were going to be devastated if the tree expert told us that we would have to remove it. Yet, God loves His people, even His most wayward and backwards, with a sacrificial love that makes our care for the tree look like nothing.
Similarly, I could not help but think of John 15 where Jesus talks to His disciples extensively about abiding in Him, the True Vine.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15: 1-2.
If our tree could talk in October, when it will be significantly trimmed and reshaped, it would probably not have kind words for its trimmer, who plans to lob off 40 percent of its branches and bulk. Yet, if the tree knew the care, the expertise and the passion that its trimmer has for the sake of the tree’s preservation, longevity and health, it would dance with delight.
As our tree, even when it appears mature and healthy, needs thinning and reshaping, so our souls need constant care and shaping. His goal, after all, is eternal preservation and ultimate maturity for our souls. When we are pruned, we would do well to remember that our pruner, the One True Vine, was pruned for us that we might be grafted in to His life.